Green is the buzzword these days. It’s hot. It’s sexy. It’s in. Recycling, walking or biking to work, turning off the lights when you leave a room…you know the basics. But what does it really mean to be green?
We want to start that conversation in this issue of The Leader. First, we need to take a closer look at our mission: to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve people and the environment. It’s that last part, the environment, that has gotten us to think more deeply about our wilderness classrooms and the impacts of global climate change, energy development, and national energy policies. Sure we have the solar-powered shower house at NOLS Southwest, the organic vegetable garden at NOLS Alaska, and the vegetable-oil-powered NOLS Bus touring the country—we certainly don’t want to discount the efforts of individual sustainability initiatives at all of our locations—however, NOLS believes it is high-time there was a concerted school-wide push for environmental sustainability and minimizing the school’s carbon footprint.
Organizing a Movement
NOLS Public Policy Director Jen Lamb has recently been tasked with coordinating the beginning stages of the NOLS Environmental Sustainability Initiative. This initiative will question how green we really are and how we can go beyond the basics of recycling programs and biodiesel to create awareness and change behaviors to positively protect our beloved wilderness. Jen’s efforts of gathering baseline data on the current level of sustainable operations at NOLS facilities worldwide and polling the NOLS community for ways to challenge or change our environmental practices are the first steps toward more concrete sustainability goals.
This is only the beginning; our end goal is to combine the individual efforts at each of our locations to create a collaborative move toward a lower environmental impact in our day-to-day operations worldwide. Find out more about the Environmental Sustainability Initiative in our Q&A with Jen.
The Power of Education
One thing we do know for sure right now is that hands-on conservation has always been important for individuals at NOLS and the school as an organization. In fact, one of the biggest “green” contributions NOLS can make is with our education. We can give our students a well-rounded, factual understanding of local and global conservation issues and, almost by definition, our expeditions can foster passion for wild places and our fragile blue planet. Perhaps in the largest sense, NOLS’ greatest good is linking our largely urban students with the land. Fortunately, our backcountry classrooms largely speak for themselves.
Alumni Lead By Example
In light of the power that education can have, we often use our alumni as indicators of whether or not we’re doing our job as educators. As we embark on raising the bar on our green initiatives, we have discovered that our grads are right there with us. While looking for outstanding examples of alumni who have perpetuated their environmental ethic after they’ve walked out of the backcountry, as always, they didn’t cease to amaze us.
It is clear that one of NOLS’ greatest green initiatives is in our course outcomes when we hear about artist Lawrence LaBianca (WRM 06/24/80), a San Francisco sculptor “whose cleanly crafted, often comic pieces play on the tension between the natural and the man-made”; and Laura Caplins (SEK 07/17/02, NWS 09/17/03) and Keith Bosak (GAR 09/14/94) who used their NOLS experiences as the foundation of their business, the Nature-Link Institute, which “seeks to redefine people’s relationship with nature through research, education and advocacy”; and Pam Hardy (WOE 01/12/94), a 2006 environmental law graduate from the University of Oregon School of Law. They are just the few of the many who have caught our attention as stewards to the environment.
NOLS is intent to provide environmental studies and experiential education in wilderness settings in order to either spark or support the green consciousness of our students. In this very issue, there are four more examples of alumni making the environment their number one priority: Thomas Cavanagh, at Amazon Watch; Margaret Lydecker, with Green Drinks NYC; Kyle Schott, manager of environmental and social responsibility for McDonald’s Corporation; and Thomas Hand, at NativeEnergy. Sit back and enjoy the stories about what each is doing for the betterment of the planet.
Voices From the Community
While reporting on the successes and standards of our exceptional alumni, we also wanted to give you a glimpse into the thoughts of the wider NOLS community. In preparation for this green issue of The Leader, we surveyed current students, grads, field instructors, and headquarters and operations staff to gather opinions about environmental sustainability and green initiatives within the greater NOLS population, including environmental/green lifestyles, measuring personal environmental impact, sources for green news and strategies, and their opinions on how NOLS measures up on a green scale.
Although we were only able to print a fraction of the responses to questions such as “How do you define green in the context of environmental lifestyles?,” “Do you think NOLS is green?,” and “What or who inspires you to be greener?,” we encourage this dialogue to continue within the community, and we pledge to report on the Environmental Sustainability Initiative at NOLS in future issues of this newsletter as updates arise.
So, again, what does it really mean to be green? We turn to our community for the answers and challenge ourselves to pay attention as our understanding of what it means to be “green” is evolving—from our field techniques to our footprint. We won’t always do the perfect thing, but we can commit to doing our best to continually examine ourselves and raise the bar and expectations. As educators, we want to help our students create their own balanced view of what environmental sustainability is and how to best live that lifestyle. As leaders, we recognize the need to also practice what we preach.
Read on for the responses to the survey.